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On Friday, Gamergate veteran and game developer Zoe Quinn, along with fellow game developer Alex Lifschitz, launched a support network for victims of online harassment. The website, Crash Override, aims to help other victims fight back against swarms of trolls who engage in online culture wars.
The site claims to offer “crisis center support” to victims of online harassment, in addition to advice from “experts in information security, white hat hacking, PR, law enforcement, legal, threat monitoring, and counselling.”
The private network of Crash Override experts is anonymous and largely composed of former victims of online harassment. The only known contributors, so far, are Quinn and Lifschitz. Lifschitz, who is Quinn’s partner, is a self-described video game producer. Quinn creates online games, most notably the critically acclaimed Depression Quest. Badass Digest gaming editor Andrew Todd, who was assisted by Crash Override when he was doxed last week, wrote that the anonymous network was composed of a “tight group of experts in online security, counselling, PR and the law.”
“I can attest to their empathy, efficacy and excellence: they’re good people who have unfortunately had cause to become good at what they do.”
The end of 2014 may have closed the door on the most intense part of gaming’s toxic, sexist culture war, but we’re still seeing Gamergate’s long-term effects—in particular the standardization of weapons of intimidation. Gamergate proponents and other subgroups often deploy strategic mass tactics of harassment, often against people who have no resources for what to do in response. These tactics can cause waves of online harassment; doxing, wherein harassers publicly release someone’s address and other real-life details; and even swatting, in which, having doxed a victim, trolls anonymously report them to the police in attempts to get officers to deploy a SWAT team to their house.
Swatting, the latest tactic, has proven at least partially effective. In the last month alone, Gamergate hub 8chan successfully convinced a SWAT team to surround the house of Gamergate critic Israel Galvez. They also bungled an attempt to swat a former Gamergate supporter named Grace Lynn, sending 20 policemen in Portland, Ore., to surround the house of a complete stranger.
According to Galvez, the SWAT team was aware that it might be responding to a hoax. Galvez said on Twitter that this was due in part to the proactive work of Quinn and Lifschitz in alerting the police department that Galvez was coming under fire from 8chan’s /baphomet forum.
.@CrashOverrideNW Crash Override helped me immensely when I was working with police to ensure I would be safe when I was SWATed.
— Izzy Galvez (@iglvzx) January 17, 2015
On /baphomet, hordes of 4chan veterans and new recruits to the gaming community routinely dox targets of their ire for reasons both petty and philosophical. In the last week alone, /baphomet has doxed Galvez and at least one of his female relatives, a trans woman, and a feminist Twitter user.
Quinn and Lifschitz have said that the site is being personally funded. The two told the Guardian, “We are a small group of people working out of pocket and we’re not asking for funding right now, which may or may not change down the line based on our needs, so we can’t take every single case.” The website makes no mention of whether the group intends to pursue alternate funding or seek nonprofit status, but Quinn clarified to the Daily Dot via email that it’s too early to think that far ahead:
“We do not currently have plans to become a nonprofit. If someday down the line that seems like a thing we would have a need for, we may revisit it, but at this point we are staying small and flexible and focusing on mapping out what we’re good at, what people have need for, and figuring out what directions to grow in response to that.”
Quinn’s primary source of income is her crowdfunded Patreon account, through which she currently receives $4,000 a month from supporters. Crash Override is among the projects listed on her Patreon. Quinn clarified to the Daily Dot:
You don’t choose a project to support, you support people as creators. We have stated that Alex and I run Crash Override out of pocket (the only thing in my pocket at the moment is my Patreon, though I have intermittent freelance contract work sometimes too). I list all of the things I currently create for free on the Patreon page that is supporting me, personally, as a creator.
As for anonymity of the network, which of course make claims of expertise difficult to verify, Quinn explained that the network’s members are choosing to prioritize individual safety over transparency in this instance:
No, we are not going to give any specific statements about the current size of Crash Override or the specifics of who are involved in it because of how aggressively they would be attacked given that the site has been under constant attack with multiple threads on anonymous message boards trying to figure out how to break in and attack the people involved. Even giving minor details runs the risk of anons attacking totally unrelated people who they suspect might be one of us based on something as loose and ridiculous as a friendly twitter exchange several years ago.
What I can confirm is that yes, what is written on the site is true – we have people who are experts in their fields and have experience in training in the mentioned fields working with us. I understand the need for confidence in who is doing what, but I would hope that our track record will be sufficient for those with concerns. We are also currently prioritizing the safety of our associates over trying to convince anyone – if people do not feel comfortable reaching out given that (and we absolutely do not want people to do anything they’re uncomfortable with), we are happy to direct people to the resource center that we’re slowly adding guides to that have a lot of our advice and the stuff that we’ve seen work best, that are public and available to anyone. However, the people who have gone public after being helped by us are really happy with the results.
Crash Override has been lauded in the media since its launch, and it’s easy to see why. The current Internet climate is one where few legal resources exist for victims of everything from cyberbullying to revenge porn. Since major platforms like Twitter and Facebook have been reluctant to implement real changes, increasingly the users of those platforms are banding together to fend for themselves. Crash Override is emblematic of this DIY approach; users of the support network are encouraged to become part of the network themselves and assist other victims.
In addition to the website, the group also maintains a Tumblr for additional resources and support. You can contact Crash Override via email if you or someone you know has been the victim of a doxing attempt—or check out any of the many other resources for dealing with online harassment.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY SA 3.0)
Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.